Analysis: Why The First Latino President Could Be A Republican, And Not A Democrat

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez speaking at the Republican National Convention in August.

Democrats enjoy a clear advantage over Republicans when it comes to support from Latino voters, but the GOP has an edge in another key area: developing promising Latino political talent.

It is a fact that's not quite apparent at first glimpse. Democrats featured at least one dozen Latino speakers at their convention last week, including big political names such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, and California Rep. Xavier Becerra (not to mention Eva Longoria). While he's not considered a future presidential contender, New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez is the highest-ranking Latino Democrat and has served as his party's campaign chief.

Democrats also made a point of promoting its most prominent Latino rising star: San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, who was the first Latino keynote speaker in the history of the Democratic Party.

While Castro, 37, could one day become a legitimate White House contender, his selection is also emblematic of the Democrats' short "bench" of up-and-coming Latino politicians who could become their party's standard bearers.

Republicans also featured a diverse lineup at their convention, including big names like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 41, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, 53, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, 49. All are ahead of Castro on the political totem pole since they hold statewide office. And being from Texas, Castro faces an uncertain path should he chose to run for higher office in the red state.

Latino Democrats for decades have far outnumbered Latino Republicans from Congress down to local school boards. There are nearly eight times as many Latino Democrats than Latino Republicans in public office today, according to data provided by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

But Republicans have made some serious gains over the past half decade. Since 2007, Latino Democrats have increased their ranks by 12 percent while Latino Republicans have multiplied by 44 percent. Republicans have also been able to advance Latino officials farther up the ladder: 32 percent of Latino Republicans serve at the state or federal level, compared to 17 percent of Democrats.

Democrats point out Republican leaders like Rubio have been unable to woo Latino voters to the GOP, arguing that the party's support for smaller government and hard line on immigration policies won't sell to the majority of Latino voters, the majority of whom identify as Democrats.

The party boasted of its strong grassroots support, saying that a record 800 Latino delegates participated at the Democratic convention in Charlotte while the Republicans had a much less diverse convention floor.

Two weeks ago at the GOP convention in Tampa, Villaraigosa dismissed Republicans' Latino prime-time lineup as token "brown face[s]" with "Spanish surname[s]."

"Window dressing doesn't do much," he said.

But party leaders who gathered in Charlotte were clearly concerned about their ability to develop and nurture a younger generation of Latino leaders.

"Good for the Republicans that they have high-ranking Latinos in their ranks. And shame on Democrats if we don't see that better do the same thing real soon," Becerra said at a luncheon sponsored by Univision, ABC News, and National Journal.

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